For the first time, Narrabri Shire Council has taken a position on the Santos Narrabri Gas Project – it now officially supports the project.
At its council meeting on Tuesday, five councillors voted in favour of a motion that included three points:
1) That Council adopt a draft submission on the Narrabri Gas Project and submit the document to the NSW Government
2) That council commend Santos on their commitment to addressing Council’s concerns on their Environmental Impact Statement
3) That Council support the Narrabri Gas Project.
Councillor Cameron Staines moved and supported the motion.
Cr Annie McMahon seconded the motion and voted in favour of it along with Mayor Cathy Redding, Cr Maxine Booby and Cr Lloyd Finlay.
Cr Ron Campbell left the room for the motion and vote due to a pecuniary interest.
Cr Robert Kneale, Cr Ron Campey and Cr Ann Loder all voted against the motion.
However, Cr Kneale wanted to state that he wasn’t necessarily against the project, he just didn’t think Council should be deciding its position on the Narrabri Gas Project during Tuesday’s meeting.
He expressed the view that Council’s ‘position to date had been very neutral’.
“I think we’ve lost the plot here,” said Cr Kneale. “I don’t want to be involved and part of today committing this Council one way or another.”
Cr Kneale’s comments stem from the fact that the most significant point up for consideration – that Council support the Narrabri Gas Project, wasn’t even listed on the meeting’s business paper.
Some in the room appeared surprised that it was suddenly on the agenda.
The recommendation that Council adopt a draft submission on the Narrabri Gas Project and submit the document to the NSW Government, was on the meeting’s agenda.
However, Cr Staines moved a new motion, which he originally referred to as an amendment but Council later clarified was a motion, that included the recommendation as well as the two new points – that council commend Santos on their commitment to addressing Council’s concerns on their EIS and that Council support the Narrabri Gas Project.
“The project has been on the cards for many years,” said Cr Staines.
“Santos has shown dedication to the Shire and commitment to employing locals and buying locally.
“They have also shown loyalty and ongoing commitment to the community and support the development of the Northern NSW Inland Port which will be the cornerstone of economic growth for the Shire for decades to come,” said Cr Staines.
Cr Staines’ motion caused a flurry of debate and some confusion, that was only exacerbated by the fact Councillors were using new microphones that many, understandably, didn’t know how to use correctly.
Councillors were often asked to press their microphones and start their statements again.
The microphones flashed with red and green lights, made a sound and at times, the council meeting looked more like the set of a game show.
At one stage, there was a query about whether Council had already voted on its position regarding the project.
“There has been no formal position formed on the Santos project,” Cr Redding said to clarify the issue.
It was a serious and significant vote.
“There’s just so many questions that haven’t been answered around this project about underground pollution,” said Cr Campey.
Cr Campey told the meeting that a couple of years ago Santos executive Peter Mitchley told him he was ‘quietly confident’ there would be ‘no pollution’.
“Just being ‘quietly confident’ for me – you’ve got to be 100 per cent – you can’t just be quietly confident.”
“I think we should let this play out for another 12 months.
“Every dog fight in town has Santos’ name on it.
“That doesn’t mean the Narrabri Shire won’t bear the brunt of what’s left in 20 years.
“I think we have to tread very, very carefully,” said Cr Campey.
“I can understand your concerns but a scientist has given us the information,” added Cr McMahon.
“As far as we know, Santos hasn’t fulfilled all the chief scientist’s recommendations,” said Cr Campey after the meeting.
“This is jobs for the community,” said Cr Staines.
“This will have a significant impact. This is jobs for the next 100 years.
“If a CSG project is going to work anywhere it will be in the Pilliga forest.
“Santos has my full support and faith for the project,” said Cr Staines.
The draft submission adopted by Council relates to correspondence with energy giant Santos since 2017.
Council made a submission in response to the NGP Environmental Impact Statement in May 2017 and Santos provided a response to submissions (RTS) which Council responded to in May 2018.
Santos provided a supplementary RTS in April 2019 which Council Staff responded to on May 14, 2019.
The outstanding issues listed by Council as of May 14, 2019 included: monitoring of natural gas wells and gathering lines, rehabilitation fund, road maintenance agreement, social impacts on vulnerable groups and capacity of local waste facilities for waste salt.
A further response was provided to Council by Santos on October 16 regarding the outstanding issues.
“The Santos response satisfies, as far as is possible, the intent of Council’s submission,” said Daniel Boyce, Council’s executive manager of planning and environment in his executive summary.
“The NSW Government will need to satisfy itself as to certain matters during the assessment process and apply appropriate conditions of consent to satisfy Council’s submission.”
The Narrabri Shire Council is not the consent authority for the Narrabri Gas Project which is currently being assessed by the NSW Department of Planning ahead of a decision by the Independent Planning Commission.